The most interesting item on yesterday’s Board of Supervisors agenda was the discussion about rebuilding our self-funded reserves and how quickly it should be done. The Voice of OC, as seen on PennLive.com, provides the story before the vote in the first piece below.
The Kelly Thomas murder hearings are garnering national press. It also provides an opportunity for some to lobby for the implementation of Laura’s Law, an option that has found me immersed in research and fiscal analysis. After a long interview with the LA Times, will you see the finished product in the second piece below (which is being published in multiple newspapers).
The third piece is in the Daily Pilot and it announces a great annual tradition to recognize members of the Newport-Mesa service clubs. Becoming a Rotarian (a service club) at a young age was an integral influence for getting me more involved in my community. If you know someone who would be a great candidate to nominate from a service club, community group or congregation, then check out the final piece below.
Alarms Sounded Over Workers Comp Reserves
Declining reserve balances for workers’ compensation have county finance officials sounding alarm bells.
The county’s current workers compensation self-insurance fund is funded at 60 percent of expected losses over a five-year period. Meanwhile, the county’s property and casualty risk self-insurance fund has dropped to a 55 percent funding level.
In a mandated report (http://cams.ocgov.com/Web_Publisher/Agenda05_08_2012_files/images/A12-000597.HTM) to county supervisors, county finance staffers are proposing that the workers comp fund be held steady at an 80 percent ratio and the property and casualty fund should be at 75 percent.
The report is the result of a county performance audit in January that found the county does not have a policy for reserve levels for the internal self-insurance fund. That report suggested that supervisors consider adopting a policy.
The issue highlights how county supervisors have been cushioning rising personnel costs, especially in public safety, by raiding internal funds like workers compensation.
From the county staff report:
The current funding policies, while resulting in lower funding levels than optimally desired, reflect the balancing of priorities during the recession. A stricter policy would have resulted in higher charges to the County departments including the Sheriff’s department (about 40% of all Liability/Worker’s Compensation charges). This in turn would have resulted in increased costs to contract partners and the County General Fund (Net County Cost). As the Board is aware, the Sheriff requested a delay in the rate increases for these programs in last year’s budget process. With a stricter Funding Policy, the rate increases would have been higher than those implemented.
Should county supervisors adopt the staff recommendation, it would reverse that practice, but also trigger increases in county personnel costs for each department.
County finance staff are proposing to phase-in the increases at 10 percent each year (about $2 to $3 million per dept) for the next five years.
County Supervisors’ Chairman John Moorlach highlighted the practice in his State of the County address earlier this year and said he’s looking forward to a lively discussion at today’s regular weekly public meeting.
Moorlach said he’s curious about what is the right level of funding for such reserves and how fast they should be restored. He’s also wondering what county leaders can do to offer workers incentives that lower such costs.
“It’s another liability,” Moorlach said. “So we have to ask what kind of legacy does this board leave to others.”
–NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.
Advocates for mentally ill hope videotaped beating of homeless man could be turning point
"I sleep in trash cans."
It is a minute and 45 seconds into the security camera video. Kelly Thomas, 37, jaws with police officers at a Fullerton, Calif., bus depot, his arms crossed over his bare chest, his backpack double-strapped. It is the night of July 5, 2011, about 8:30. It’s still 80 degrees outside. A few pedestrians wander by. A car passes. There is no indication that the lives of every person on the tape are about to change.
"You planning on going to sleep pretty soon?" one officer asks.
"I’d like to," Thomas replies.
But another officer, Manuel Ramos, isn’t done. "It seems like every day we have to talk to you about something," Ramos says, twirling his baton. "Do you enjoy it?"
It is a critical moment – 2:12 on the video. From that point forward, the exchange spirals out of control. At 15:47, Thomas receives the first blow from a baton. At 17:29, officers pile on top of Thomas, who screams: "I can’t breathe!" At 21:25, blood gurgles in Thomas’ throat. At 21:49, he shrieks: "Daddy! Daddy!" At 22:36 come his last words: "Help me! Help me!"
This week, after the tape was played for the first time in court, it exploded in the public consciousness – one YouTube version had been viewed 91 times each minute – and became an instant touchstone for those who advocate for a more robust and effective mental health system.
Advocates for the mentally ill said they viewed the recording, the centerpiece of the prosecution’s case against two officers accused in Thomas’ death, as something akin to their Rodney King video.
In the case of the King video, civic activists felt they had a record, at long last, of something they’d been trying to articulate for years: that the relationship between African-Americans and Los Angeles police was fundamentally broken. Similarly, advocates for the mentally ill say they now have a record of a scattershot, chronically underfunded mental health system. This is what it looks like, they said, when schizophrenics fend for themselves on the streets, when their only interface with the government is with haplessly unprepared police officers.
"I think I’m a fairly strong woman. I’ve seen a lot of tragedy over the years. But I am reeling," said Carla Jacobs, a veteran Southern California mental health activist, shortly after watching the recording.
The tape, she noted, will be picked apart during the legal proceedings. Some will argue, she said, that Thomas should have been more respectful, and worked harder to follow instructions. Others will argue that the officers should have received better training. None of that, she contended, will matter in the end.
"As far as I’m concerned, the blame – the guilt – is on the mental health system that left Kelly out on the street and didn’t provide him with the treatment that could have prevented this horror," she said. "I hope we can develop a collective memory and recognize the tragedy that we have caused."
In interviews, advocates said the beating death and its recording could fuel meaningful reform – in mental health funding; in the use of coordinated, "wrap-around" social services; in persuading wary or defiant patients to consent to treatment; and, in particular, in the training of police officers to defuse encounters with the mentally ill.
"It is my personal crusade to change the way police officers deal with the mentally ill," said Thomas’ father, Ron Thomas.
Kelly Thomas suffered brain injuries, shattered facial bones, broken ribs and a crushed thorax. He was taken off life support by his family and died five days after his beating.
Ramos, 38, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter; a second officer, Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, 40, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and using excessive force. Ramos faces a life prison term; Cicinelli could be sentenced to four years in prison. Both have pleaded not guilty.
The black-and-white recording, lifted from a city surveillance camera, was played in public for the first time Monday at a preliminary hearing to determine whether the case should go to trial.
The recording was not equipped with sound, but authorities paired it with audio recordings lifted from devices attached to some of the officers’ uniforms. On the recording, Ramos is seen pulling on latex gloves – and can be heard telling Thomas that he is "getting ready to … you up." Cicinelli can be seen striking Thomas – and heard telling a colleague: "I just smashed his face to hell."
"The audio is what is key," Ron Thomas said. "Without the audio the brutality isn’t as devastating."
Onlookers in the courtroom were unable to stifle cries of outrage; Judge Walter Schwarm was forced to pause the proceedings in order to remind the courtroom to maintain a sense of decorum.
In the past, other incidents in which homeless people were killed by police have prompted calls for reform. In 1999, for instance, a Los Angeles police officer shot and killed a 5-foot-1, 102-pound homeless woman after she allegedly lunged at him with a screwdriver. Today, LAPD officers are required to alert a mental evaluation unit when they encounter someone suspected of suffering from a mental illness; officers are trained to recognize people with schizophrenia and other conditions and are often paired with mental health experts.
But armed with a disturbing, crystalline recording of Thomas’ beating, mental health advocates are pushing for systemic reform – even in an age of shrinking budgets.
"It should be evident to anybody that this man need not have died," said Randall Hagar, director of government affairs at the California Psychiatric Association.
For instance, mental health workers have demonstrated the resounding success of a style of therapy known as "whatever it takes" – founded on the notion that mental illness is typically accompanied by physical illness, poverty and other problems. Those programs have languished because of funding deficiencies. Some advocates said the Thomas case could resurrect the effort to force institutions shouldering the burden of that frayed safety net, such as hospitals, to pay for the fix.
For the public, said Rusty Selix, executive director of the California Council of Community Mental Health Agencies, "Not giving them the care they need costs more than giving them all of the care they need."
The Thomas case, too, could prompt some counties to reconsider implementation of Laura’s Law, a 2002 state measure allowing for court-ordered treatment and compulsory medication in some cases. So far, only Nevada County has fully implemented the measure. Now, Orange County is taking a hard look at implementing the law, though that effort is on hold while questions about its funding mechanisms are resolved.
"If Kelly Thomas wouldn’t have happened, I don’t know if we would have looked at it," said Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach.
Most of all, advocates said they expect a fervent effort to train more officers to better navigate encounters with people who suffer from mental illness. Hagar said the Thomas case could compel advocates to add that training to upcoming legislative priorities in reforming California’s mental health system. And Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said the state could launch an effort to persuade counties to seek through the Mental Health Services Act additional law enforcement training.
Fullerton has put all of its officers through training on use of force and interacting with the homeless and mentally ill. The city also created a task force on homelessness and mental illness, made up of religious leaders, mental health advocates and others.
Like the King beating in Los Angeles, the death of Thomas forced leaders and residents to focus on a serious, long-standing problem, said Fullerton resident Rusty Kennedy, chairman of the task force and executive director of the Orange County Human Relations Commission.
"I think both in the Rodney King and the Kelly Thomas cases, there were significant steps taken,” Kennedy said. “But in both cases, the problems we’re facing aren’t easily put to rest.”
Community & Clubs: Orange Coast College’s Circle K Club to host banquet
By Jim de Boom
Daily Pilot Hall of Fame luncheon
At least six people active in local community service with service clubs, community groups and congregations will be inducted into the Daily Pilot Community & Clubs Hall of Fame at a special luncheon, which will take place at noon on June 8, at the Newport Beach American Legion Post 291. That is the number of nominations received as of May 7, 2012.
Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach will serve as master of ceremonies while the induction of honorees will be done by me, Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis and Features Editor Imran Vittachi. Proceeds from the event will benefit Exploring, a program of the Orange County Council of Boy Scouts of America.
The 2012 nominees will be announced in this column on May 30.
The public is invited to attend the luncheon. Reservations at $50 per person can be made by calling Lane Calvert at (714) 546-8558 ext. 181, or by sending an email to email@example.com.
To nominate a candidate from a service club, community group or congregation, contact Calvert or myself at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS
The Daily Pilot’s Editor, Bill Lobdell, had started a cable show, titled “The Lobdell Group,” that found me serving as a substitute guest from time to time (see MOORLACH UPDATE — OC Register — March 25, 2012). I once asked how much the show was costing the Daily Pilot. The answer? Nothing. It was a free service of the cable station, as they had to provide public access as a part of their contract with the host city, Costa Mesa. The light went on and I asked for my own show, and “The Conservative Report” was born. Friends and my kids would serve as camera operators. Over the following few years, we had built a long list of great guests. It was a wonderful experience and gave my kids a real appreciation for “Wayne’s World,” which also hit theaters in 1992. The Daily Pilot took notice and provided this fun little piece, titled “Beginner’s Luck, Maybe:”
John Moorlach, president of the Costa Mesa Republican Assembly, scored something of a coup by snagging heavyweight guest Bruce Herschensohn, GOP candidate for Alan Cranston’s US Senate seat, for his fledgling local weekly cable show “The Conservative Report.” You can check it out Mondays and Fridays at 8 p.m. on the Copley-Colony system, Channel 61.
One of my early initiatives has been a resolution to the annexation issues facing Costa Mesa and Newport Beach, which is why I requested an appointment to the Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO). I continue to serve on LAFCO and continue to obtain closure on this topic (hoping that eight years will be enough time), My efforts began by bringing many things to the table with the impacted parties, Santa Ana Heights, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and the County of Orange. The goal has been to achieve a mutually satisfactory resolution, thus accomplishing an aggressive but achievable “global pla.” I knew when I started that it would not be easy. The upcoming LAFCO meeting would certainly indicate if moving forward would be doable or not. Alicia Robinson of the Daily Pilot covered the topic in “Leader to announce annexation plan – County supervisor may hold the wildcard in ongoing standoff between Newport, Costa Mesa over which city gets what.” The piece included a helpful graphic.
Years of arguing and months of negotiations over unincorporated areas between Costa Mesa and Newport Beach may come to a head Wednesday, when the commission that decides annexations in Orange County meets.On Thursday, staff members of the Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission released a recommendation that included options for West Santa Ana Heights, one of four large unincorporated areas the two cities have battled over. But what may be more interesting than the staff suggestion is a "global solution," which Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach plans to announce at the meeting. The plan would result in annexation of the four areas — West Santa Ana Heights, the Santa Ana Country Club, a neighborhood south of Mesa Drive, and the largely undeveloped Banning Ranch. But it’s unclear which city would annex each area. It also could include other issues officials have been haggling over, such as control of parks that are now county-owned. On Thursday, Moorlach was keeping quiet about his proposal, but he did say which of the commission staff’s suggestions he’s supporting for West Santa Ana Heights. He’s backing an option that would divide West Santa Ana Heights into three pieces that would be annexed to Newport Beach in phases: the first when Newport seeks to also bring in a tiny unincorporated island known as the Emerson tract, the second when the city agrees to give up pieces of a one-foot-wide strip of its property that surrounds Banning Ranch, and the third when Costa Mesa and the Santa Ana Country Club come to some sort of agreement on the club’s future. Country club members have petitioned to join Newport Beach, but Costa Mesa dug in its heels because it has the first right to try to annex the club property. Costa Mesa has applied to have 357 acres of 412-acre Banning Ranch brought into its sphere of influence — a prelude to annexation — but commission staffers said any decision on that should be postponed for six months. Costa Mesa City Councilman Eric Bever on Thursday declined to comment on annexation issues because discussions are ongoing. Moorlach’s attempt to tie the annexations and more with a neat bow may not go over with Newport, which has resisted efforts to take land away. Newport Beach Mayor Steve Rosansky said Moorlach is trying to resolve too many issues at once. "To the extent that any of that involves us giving up any of the one-foot strip or any of our sphere of influence over Banning Ranch, I don’t know that we would be in favor of that," he said.
Darkened areas in the insets denote land the county wants Newport Beach or Costa Mesa to annex. Which city will get which area is the subject of debate.
Jeff Overley of the OC Register covered the topic in “Solutions offered in annexation tug of war – Commission seeks compromise between Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, which want the same areas.”
Staff at the Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission released options Thursday for deciding the fate of two areas that have produced an annexation tug-of-war between Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.
The plans to be considered May 9 would let Newport annex the 64-acre West Santa Ana Heights neighborhood either all at once or in phases, or leave the area unincorporated. Officials recommend a six-month extension of talks about Banning Ranch, which both cities want to control.
Newport City Manager Homer Bludau and Costa Mesa City Manager Allan Roeder both said they might support extending talks on both areas because Supervisor John Moorlach has been helping them seek compromise.
Commission officer Bob Aldrich said an extension would be possible. But Roeder cautioned that when the agency granted more time in November, "some members of the board were pretty clear that they expected that they would vote on this when it came back."
Another component of the “global solution” includes the possibility of transferring the Harbor Patrol from the Orange County Sheriff-Coroner’s Department to the Newport Beach Police Department. Alicia Robinson of the Daily Pilot provided another update in “Harbor Patrol control in play – Newport Beach plans to ask for management duties. A law enforcement group opposes the idea, saying it would hurt public safety.”
The ongoing debate about who should run the Harbor Patrol in Newport Beach may become more intense, with city and county officials bidding for control.When Newport officials in 2003 suggested the city take over patrolling its own coastline, they got a chilly reception from the county. Since then, some Orange County supervisors have suggested the city should pay for Harbor Patrol services, which led Newport officials to ask what’s in it for them. Now county supervisors have agreed to let the city submit a proposal to run the Harbor Patrol, but Newport may be getting a proposal in return. Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona, who oversees the Harbor Patrol, told Supervisor John Moorlach that it’s only fair to let him put in a bid to provide public safety on the streets of Newport Beach. The Orange County Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol is headquartered in Newport Beach and also serves Huntington Harbour, Sunset Beach and Dana Point, where the harbor is owned by the county. The Sheriff’s Department has contracts with 12 of the county’s 34 cities. Carona has not publicly sought to patrol Newport, which has its own police, but Moorlach told supervisors at a meeting Tuesday that the sheriff had expressed interest. Several calls to Carona on Wednesday and Thursday were not returned. Newport Beach City Manager Homer Bludau said plenty of research would be required if the city were to seek control of the Harbor Patrol, but if the county presses Newport to pay for the services, the city should have more control. "I think there’s interest in looking at it and seeing if there’s some revenue in order for us to provide that service," Bludau said. "I’m for it," Moorlach said in an interview Wednesday. "I think they have the wherewithal to do it, and I have a Sheriff’s Department that’s telling me they’re 11% understaffed…. I think it’s something we need to discuss and debate and thoroughly analyze." Any moves toward a Newport takeover will surely face opposition from the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, which has been running ads in the Daily Pilot for the last three Sundays touting the life-saving work of the Harbor Patrol. Association President Wayne Quint said the ads are simply to make the public aware of the Harbor Patrol’s services, and they weren’t motivated by debate over control of the agency. But the association would oppose relinquishing the Harbor Patrol to Newport Beach, he said. "To us, if that were to happen, it would mean public safety’s going to be impacted," he said. The Harbor Patrol now covers all of the county’s 42-mile coastline to three miles out at sea, Quint said, but if Newport took over, city taxpayers likely would only want to pay to patrol the city’s harbor. As to the sheriff bidding to be Newport’s public safety provider, Bludau said if a proposal came in he’d show it to the City Council, but saving money wouldn’t be the only consideration. "I don’t think it’s a type of service that any contracting agency can just automatically fill without a deep understanding of the community," he said.
The 50th anniversary parade for Rossmoor found me dutifully carrying “Flat Stanley” for a young student. Mark Rightmire of the OC Register caught it and published the photo the next day on the OC Register’s website.
Golden parade fills Rossmoor streets
Jonathan Lansner of the OC Register started a long series of pieces on the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA). This one was titled “73 seems focused on Wall Street.” Lansner’s piece was profound and prophetic. I’ve melted the column down to four paragraphs. I was willing to assist the TCA, so Lansner mentioned it, and then the fun began.
According to a strategic analysis compiled by the 73, Wall Street got the biggest say in nudging the 73’s board to select merging with its sister toll road, the Foothill/Eastern, as its financial salvation.
Serious chats were never held with other government agencies that possibly might either invest in – or buy – the 73. Such hometown scenarios were nixed by the analysis without meaningful dialogue with potential partners.
Funny. County Treasurer John Moorlach sits on $4 billion of funds, which he manages for various municipalities, that could be invested. He says he’d talk to the 73 folks about a potential investment. While Moorlach agreed with the 73’s analysis that such a deal “would be difficult to structure,” so, too, will the costly merger the 73 hopes to complete with Foothill/Eastern.
With literally billions of dollars at stake, it’s sad that the 73 has made minimal effort to find local solutions. Rather, it’s chosen to concentrate on the treacherous and expensive bond game, where usually only Wall Street types win.
OC Register reporter Martin Wisckol informed me of the sad news, which he covered in “Former Assemblyman Gil Ferguson dies.” A year or two prior to his passing, Gil had asked me to take over the Principles Over Politics organization. I would call it a precursor to the Tea Party movement. Regretfully, the job of county supervisor was more than adequate to fill up every week of the year, so I reluctantly declined. After a long chat regaling Martin on various topics concerning Gil’s successful life, here is the finished product (the Associated Press would pick up the piece and include my quote: Ferguson . . . “wasn’t afraid to take on the establishment and that endeared him to a lot of people”):
Former Assemblyman Gil Ferguson, a straight-talking hero to many conservatives and critic of the Republican establishment, died Sunday night at Hoag Hospital of complications related to leukemia. The Newport Beach resident was 84.
Ferguson was born in St. Louis, Missouri on April 22, 1923. In his early 20s, he joined the Marine Corps. He served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War before retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1967, after 26 years in the service.
The USC graduate spent 10 years as vice president of public relations for the Irvine Co.. While there, he launched the Irvine World News, which is now owned by the Register’s parent company.
During that time, he became increasingly active in politics. In 1984, he was elected to the state Assembly and served until 1994, when he stepped down to run for state Senate. He lost to fellow Republican Ross Johnson.
Ferguson launched Principles Over Politics as part of his 1984 campaign, with William F. Buckley, Rush Limbaugh and Pat Buchanan among his early speakers and supporters. POP evolved into a newsletter and monthly breakfast, both becoming local institutions.
Because of his declining health, Ferguson handed the reins of the group to businesswoman Marianne Zippi at the end of 2006. The monthly Balboa Bay Club breakfast continues to regularly attract 100 or more people.
"Gil was straight up," said county Supervisor John Moorlach. "He was one of my mentors. We didn’t agree on everything – he was frustrated with what he called ‘the machine’ (of the local GOP). I’m not sure I agree with that conspiracy theory. … (But he) wasn’t afraid to take on the establishment and that endeared him to a lot of people."
As recently as last October, Ferguson complained to the Register of the leadership lapses of county GOP Chairman Scott Baugh, Sheriff Mike Carona, and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
Ferguson is survived by his wife, Anita, four children and nine grandchildren.